tribal commemoration will be held next week at Papahua Reserve, Raglan Domain, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of Māori chief Wiremu Neera Te Awaitaia, a warrior who became one of the best friends of the Europeans.

Te Awaitaia, who was born about 1796 into the Waikato tribe of Ngāti Mahanga, at Waipa, died in Raglan on April 27, 1866, struck down by an influenza epidemic.

He is buried at Papahua, near the boat ramp in Raglan Domain, where the commemoration will be held on Wednesday morning.

His death notice in the Evening Post, dated May 7, 1866, said William Naylor (as Te Awaitaia was known to Pākehā) had been in Kawhia at the arrival of the governor, Sir George Grey, when he had “taken ill with the fever”. “He was brought to Raglan by men of his tribe, on a stretcher, and attended to by Dr Harsant and the surgeon of HMS Eclipse,” the death notice said. “But medical skill was unavailing and the poor old man died on the 27th of April.”

The death notice described Te Awaitaia as one of the oldest and best friends of the Europeans.

“He was an illustrious man amongst the great warrior chiefs of old New Zealand, who have now nearly all passed away.”

Te Awaitaia was a warrior in his youth. He was active in battle, many of them led by his kinsman, Potatau Te Wherowhero.

In retaliation for the killing of a Waikato chief’s daughter, Te Awaitaia led a war party that drove out the Ngāti Koata from their lands near Whaingaroa (Raglan) Harbour, taking possession of their territory.

He was very skilful with the taiaha (traditional Maori weapon), according to history accounts, and gained mana by the axeing to death of Ngāti Tama chief Te Raparapa, who was renowned for his great strength.

According to the Evening Post death notice, Te Awaitaia was present at the storming of the Pukerangiora pā by the Waikatos.

“It is related that, after saving the women and children, 340 prisoners were led out before Te Wherowhero, who killed two hundred of them with a hatchet. He was at length wearied with the labour of killing, and the skin came off his hand. Te Awaitaia then came forward and killed the rest.”

However, Te Awaitaia’s warring ways ended with his conversion to Christianity.

“A good many of his people went into the war, but he kept aloof and was several times employed as ambassador,” said the death notice.

In the Raglan museum, it is written: “Throughout the Waikato conflicts he remained loyal to the Queen giving protection to the settlers in his rohe. (No settlers were ever attacked within Ngāti Mahanga area.)”

Te Awaitaia also spoke out against the creation of a Māori King.

Baptised Wiremu Neera, or William Naylor, Te Awaitaia invited the missionaries to Whaingaroa, where he built the first church.

It was said that Te Awaitaia had nine wives, of which he had to renounce eight in order to become a member of the church.

“When the missionaries came, Te Awaitaia became a teacher, and made a preaching tour into Taranaki, and then to Taupo and the Waipa,” the death notice said.

Te Awaitaia signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Port Waikato on April 11, 1840.

He was eager to sell land to Pākehā to attract trade for the benefit of his people, but later regretted that the white man was not as hospitable, according to Ngāti Mahanga.

The location of Te Awaitaia’s house in the Raglan redoubt is now the car park for the Waikato District Council Raglan office, in Wi Neera St.

Governor Sir George Grey travelled overland for two days to attend the tangi of Te Awaitaia.

An interpretive panel on Te Awaitaia, written in Māori and English, will be unveiled at the commemoration on Wednesday 27th April.

Inger Vos